Homeschooling Special Needs Children

Parents with special needs children often ask, “Can I homeschool my child?”  The answer to that question is, yes, in Texas there is no distinction between special needs children and typical children.  Special needs children do not have to attend public school.  Many families find that these children receive more individualized attention and advance more in the home environment than they would in a classroom with other special needs children.  Parents who want to homeschool a special child need to consider several factors as they make the decision.

What is a special needs child?

One needs to ask, “Does the difference affect the way the child needs to be taught, or does the family have to make accommodations for the child in their lifestyle?”  If the answer is yes, then that is a special needs child.

How difficult will this be?

Parents need to understand that making this decision is essentially a commitment to becoming an expert in this child’s needs.   “Special needs” is such a wide term that it is really not possible to find someone who can provide all the information to every special needs family for every potential need.  Reading and research will be necessary and quite beneficial.

Where do we find curriculum?

There is no standard curriculum for special needs children.  The possibilities are endless. Getting advice from someone familiar with the variety of curricula available, preferably someone who does not have a financial interest in selling a product, is a good idea.  More important than buying a particular curriculum is knowledge about how to use it in a way that makes it meaningful for the child.  This is why it is so important to research the child’s needs.  Books about learning styles may provide valuable tips to parents who choose not to pursue a label for the child.

Should we get a label for this child?

Labeling is only helpful if it leads the parents/teachers to find information that helps the child learn and succeed.  Labeling is pointless if it is an excuse for the child, a way for parents to get out of battling a challenging child, or a reason for outsiders to presuppose certain behaviors.  Some parents test the child, get a label, and never tell others about it.  Others choose to make the issue public, especially for a child who looks typical but has highly atypical behaviors.  Still others never put a label on the problem but simply deal gently but firmly with the behaviors and work diligently to give loving instruction on academic subjects.  Each family must make that decision privately.

More important than the label is the identification of certain barriers to learning.  Dealing with those in a loving manner is far better than exasperating the child by expecting something he is incapable of doing.

Labels are productive only insofar as they lead to constructive results for parents and child.

Do we need to write an IEP?

Families familiar with the public school system are aware of Individualized Education Plans prepared by the schools for each child in special education programs.  These plans are useful tools for identifying areas of growth for the child.  If a child is being removed from the public school system, it is a good idea to have his most recent IEP to help determine what have already been identified as helpful modifications for him.  Children who have never been in public school benefit from an IEP the way travelers benefit from a map—parents have an idea which areas need work so that something is not neglected.

There is no legal requirement for an IEP for a child who is not enrolled in public school.

What kind of records should we keep?

As in all aspects of the homeschool experience, balance is the key.  While the state of Texas does not require any records, parents who anticipate leaving the state at some point should probably consider keeping records in case the state to which they move requires them.  Record keeping is a good habit to get into, but it is not required.  Keeping samples of the student’s work allows the parent to see progress, which can be motivating in challenging moments.  Documents related to testing and outside therapies are helpful for planning and for future reference.

Records are not required, but samples of student work as well as testing documents are helpful.

How does the parent/teacher cope?

Support is critical for any homeschooler.  For a family with a special needs child, that is even more important.  Membership in a nearby support group can be encouraging.  Networking with other families that have special needs children may provide ideas.    Depending on the severity of the child’s special need, a respite care provider who understands the child’s needs can give the parent(s) a regular break.  If relatives live nearby, their help and support could make a difference for the family.